Minimum price plan to end cheap alcohol sales


Guy Mason from Morrisons believes minimum unit prices for alcohol would punish responsible customers

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Ministers are proposing a minimum price of 45p a unit for the sale of alcohol in England and Wales as part of a drive to tackle problem drinking.

The Home Office has launched a 10-week consultation on the plan, arguing it will help reduce the levels of ill-health and crime related to alcohol.

It is also considering banning multi-buy promotions, such as two-for-the-price-of-one.

The 45p proposal is 5p higher than the figure suggested by ministers in March.

It comes after pressure has been mounting on the government to follow Scotland's lead, where 50p has been proposed.

The aim of a minimum price would be to alter the cost of heavily-discounted drinks sold in shops and supermarkets. It is not expected to affect the price of drinks in many pubs.

The Home Office said the consultation was targeted at "harmful drinkers and irresponsible shops".

A spokesman added: "Those who enjoy a quiet drink or two have nothing to fear from our proposals."

The 45p minimum would mean a can of strong lager could not be sold for less than £1.56 and a bottle of wine below £4.22.

Research carried out by Sheffield University for the government shows a 45p minimum would reduce the consumption of alcohol by 4.3%, leading to 2,000 fewer deaths and 66,000 hospital admissions after 10 years.

The number of crimes would drop by 24,000 a year as well, researchers suggested.

Alcohol priced at 45p per unit

There has been evidence of some outlets selling alcohol at a loss to encourage customers through the doors, with cans of lager going for 20p and two-litre bottles of cider available for under £2.


Ministers have been particularly critical of such practices, blaming them for what has been dubbed "pre-loading", where people binge-drink before going out.

They have linked this phenomenon to the rising levels of alcohol-related violence and hospital admissions, of which there are more than a million a year.

But the idea of introducing a minimum price - first proposed at 40p in the government's alcohol strategy published in March - has been met with opposition by the industry.

The Scottish government plan, which is not due to start until April 2013, was challenged on legal grounds by the Scotch Whisky Association and the European Spirits Organisation.

What's a unit?

  • Half a pint of standard strength (4%) beer, cider or lager
  • A single pub measure of spirit (25ml)
  • Half a standard 175ml glass of wine

They claimed it was up to Westminster, rather than Holyrood, to decide such an issue and they said it was also incompatible with the EU's "general principles of free trade and undistorted competition".

The legal challenges were heard in the Court of Session in Edinburgh last month and a judgement is expected before the end of the year.

Separately the European Commission is looking into the legality of the Scottish government's actions.

In Northern Ireland, consideration is also being given to minimum pricing, although no final decision has been taken yet.

Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium, said: "Most major retailers believe minimum pricing and controls on promotions are unfair to most customers. They simply penalise the vast majority, who are perfectly responsible drinkers, while doing nothing to reduce irresponsible drinking.

"The government should recognise the role of personal responsibility. It should not allow interfering in the market to regulate prices and promotions to become the default approach for public health policy."

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, agreed, saying there was "no evidence" minimum alcohol pricing would be effective in tackling alcohol misuse.

The 45p effect

On the face of it, there seems to be little difference between the 45p minimum unit price for alcohol now being proposed and the 40p figure put forward earlier this year.

But in terms of consumption levels - and the subsequent criminal and health costs - the shift is significant.

Research by Sheffield University shows that at 45p consumption drops by 4.3% - a 75% greater effect than would be seen at 40p.

In terms of deaths over a 10-year period, the impact is nearly double. A 45p minimum will save over 2,000 lives compared to under 1,200 for 40p. The effect on crime is also two-fold.

But what the research also shows is that another 5p on the minimum price to bring it to 50p - as Scotland has done - would see a similar increase in impact, which is why campaigners have been pushing for more.

Another area of interest - and possible controversy - is the effect this will have on moderate drinkers.

The research shows a 45p minimum price also affects their buying habits, reducing consumption by 2.3%. That is greater than the reduction likely to be seen in young hazardous drinkers - the so-called binge drinkers.

But health campaigners believe a minimum price is an important step in tackling problem drinking.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, from the British Medical Association, said the changes in pricing could help to stop young people binge drinking.

She told the BBC: "Alcohol is a dose-related poison, in other words the more you drink the more harm it causes, so by reducing the amount they are drinking over the safe limit you are helping to save them.

"It isn't a small minority of the population who are drinking excessively, it's nearly a quarter. That's a huge number of people who are drinking at levels that are hazardous to their health and we really have to throw everything we can (at it) to save lives."

Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "We're paying a heavy price for alcohol misuse and setting a minimum unit price will help us on the road to changing this.

"But we cannot cut the misery caused by excessive drinking, whether it's crime or hospitalisation, through price alone.

"We need tighter controls around licensing, giving local authorities and police forces all the tools they need to get a firm grip on the way alcohol is being sold in their area. We have an opportunity to make an enormous difference to the lives of thousands of people - we must seize it."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 715.

    This may persuade the odd weekend binge drinker to reduce their intake (until next payday), but it won't make a bit of difference to alcoholics who are driven by the drink to find any means possible of obtaining it. The Gov needs to invest money to train GP's in recognising the signs and offer REAL support, advice and intervention, instead of ignoring the problem and paying much more for it later!

  • rate this

    Comment number 714.

    This is daft; there are other issues to be dealt with before this. Why is it acceptable for a pub to charge £3.50 for a pint of beer, and simultaneously charge £3.45 for a pint of lemonade from the siphon? Of course people are going to have the beer - they feel "ripped off" at the price of soft-drinks, while there is a perceived "value" to alcoholic drinks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 713.

    Another thing that's about to become unaffordable. Time to leave and take my skills to another country I think.... p.s. most other 20-30 year olds think the same, so enjoy paying for your own retirements! :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 712.

    The end of freedom as we know it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 711.

    I am sure these medical advisers were medical students at one point wonder if they drank responsively then.If there is a problem with people being drunk before they hit the bars and clubs shouldn't they just refuse them entry if they are to drunk and problem solved? I live next to a few bars and I see them serve people who have had enough all the time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 710.

    It's about rising prices to raise more tax. This could be harmful to abusers in lower-income families who may divert important funds for booze. Abusers will abuse - tackle the cause and that's not "because it's cheap".

    It was raised on this morning's Breakfast that increased parking charges could "encourage" people to walk. Hiking prices like that is moronic and hurts the responsible MAJORITY.

  • rate this

    Comment number 709.

    Looking at those prices from above, in the graphic, then my local supermarket have been flogging alcohol for years now and above those prices!

  • rate this

    Comment number 708.

    Is 50 p going to deter me from drinking alcohol not really! is 50p going to deter any one from drinking less? I dont think so! Govt is doing exactly the same as they did with smoking 40 years ago and now Lung cancer is one of the biggest killer in the world. Just wait another 15 years liver disease will be the biggest killer if govt continues its pathetic approach. Tackle the problem on its head!

  • rate this

    Comment number 707.

    Everyone goes out on a friday /saturday and gets drunk, it's just what people do. It won't stop me from binge drinking at the weekend, it's just annoying that the price will go up. Binge drinking isn't even a problem in the UK, it's the same everywhere. All over the world people go out and drink when they have the weekend or time off work etc. it's fun and social and a way to blow off steam.

  • rate this

    Comment number 706.

    Very easy to make your own from a kit, the very basic equipment you need (brew bucket, sterilising powder, airlock) is less than £10. And the brew - well 40 pints from a £15 kit can't be bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 705.

    I think this idea would certainly help. The plan is to raise the price per unit, thus eliminating the cheap, poor quality alcohol like own-brand vodka for £9 or 2L bottles of cider for £2. Casual drinkers who like the odd drink at home won't be affected, because the alcohol they buy already costs more than the proposed limit, so their prices won't change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 704.

    As a student this will be interesting, practically every student I know pre-drinks before going out to save money as drinks in clubs and bars are expensive. I expect students will increase their overdrafts to compensate for this, which will transfer into adulthood and we will be one of the first generations where we think it is acceptable to have an overdraft so we don't go without luxuries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 703.

    Alcohol is one of THE most addictive and powerful drugs today and changes peoples minds to what is acceptable. In a century from now it will be banned totally and people will look back with amazement at the thought of shops openly selling it. When a well known 'cola' brand first started producing drinks it contained cocaine, yet at the time cocaine was accepted to take. Sound familar?

  • rate this

    Comment number 702.

    So, politicians proving yet again that they are simply not up to the job. More expenses fiddled since they said they would stop it, more debt since they ended boom and bust, more people dying from handgun crime since they banned it, more people dying from lung cancer since they put the price of cigarettes up, etc. Get a grip, you lot. I am not going to vote anymore, since it stimulates stupidity!

  • rate this

    Comment number 701.

    In Norway, Sweden and Finland, taxes are high and alcohol retail controlled through state monopoly shops. The result? Worse binge drinking than here, and some 50% of consumption is actually through duty-free, border sales from lower tax countries or home-brew/moonshine. Calais here we come!

  • rate this

    Comment number 700.

    I don't think reducing consumption would achieve anything in terms of anti-social behaviour. There is a belief in large parts of British society that drinking alcohol excuses bad behaviour. This is not accepted by most of the rest of the world.

    It follows that in Britain many people do not behave badly because they drink, but drink because they want to behave badly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 699.

    have to clear up a few points..
    1) this isnt a tax
    2) this wont affect all alcohol, mid to top brands are above 45p p/u
    3) unless you drink cheap watered down industrial meths that pass as so-called ciders and gut rot bottom shelf spirits that come in plastic bottles, this wont effect you.
    4) it wont make retailers increase the prices of all drinks to "maintain a price difference"

  • rate this

    Comment number 698.

    you gradually brainwash generations into faith in exclusive naturalism for origins, though unprovable, then you will eventually reap a culture which seeks solace and peace in drugs and booze instead of God, truth, wisdom.

    thus a secular culture results in towns and cities turning into violent, drunken, hedonistic war zones at weekends and nights

    the west is not so civilised and enlightened

  • rate this

    Comment number 697.

    @645 rob_of_the_rovers

    It seems like most people have only read the headline & not the full article, only the cheapest alcoholic beverages will be affected most "casual" drinkers will be unaffected, unless you actually like the taste of cheap ciders & £3 bottles of wine
    It seems like you posted in haste as well, Supermarket price differentials will ensure changes ripple upward to other brands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 696.

    Minimum pricing is NOT a tax-raising tool. The extra money you spend will go to the retailers and manufacturers. They say it won't reduce consumption but they're opposed to something which will mean they get paid more for selling the same amount of booze. Why? Strange don't you think?


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